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Ryan Bakken, Forum News Service, Published April 14 2013

Ryan Bakken: Sandbag duty is a no-brainer

GRAND FORKS - As is his custom, Ed Schultz got it wrong last week.

In the latest episode of his never-ending pursuit of attracting attention to himself, the former Fargo broadcaster characterized eighth-graders filling sandbags in Fargo as “slave labor.”

He certainly got noticed with his appraisal on his syndicated, left-tilting radio show, where he demonizes rich people even though he’s one of them. And, with Ed, being noticed is what is most important. Apparently, his ego likely needed some extra self-stroking after being bruised from his screen time being downsized on MSNBC.

However, his slave portrayal fell flat.

For starters, our country’s last slaves weren’t volunteers, as the Fargo students were. Students had a choice of the classroom or shoveling sand. Think back to when you were 14 years old, with your options for the day being: A) piling stacks of sandbags; or B) sitting in a classroom, learning about the War of 1812. Which would you have chosen?

Me, too.

Motives don’t matter. What does matter is that students should be praised for helping in a noble cause, protecting their city from harm. To portray them as indentured servants or gullible patsies is not only inaccurate, but also bad manners.

However, I recognize that bad manners are part of the job description for talk radio and partisan cable “news” shows such as those on MSNBC and its right-tilting mirror image, Fox News Channel.

Rather than being slaves, eighth-graders are the perfect demographic for sandbagging duty. They have the muscle for the heavy lifting. And, they aren’t old enough to have driver’s licenses, jobs or other diversions. They also haven’t been sandbagging long enough to be sick-and-tired of it, as is the case with adults.

I’ve witnessed the sandbagging exploits of youth for a long time. It dates back to the 1960s in Crookston, when I was of a similar age. Every spring, Crookston seemed to have flooding problems. And, every year, youth responded in droves, partly because it was necessary and partly because it was an adventure.

After several springs of sandbagging, as a reward, the city’s grownups responded by raising enough money for artificial ice.

The ice was nice, as the money-raising slogan went. Also nice was the respect earned and the missed class time.

It was a win-win situation. We never felt like slaves. Nor was there anyone around dim enough to suggest it.

Truth be told, Schultz likely didn’t mean what he said about slavery. But he knows that saying outlandish things draws attention. When he was the Voice of the Bison, everything about UND was bad. When he was the Voice of the Fighting Sioux, everything about North Dakota State was bad. Look it up.

So, congratulations to Ed, who would rather be mocked than ignored.